“You will make mistakes and sometimes get frustrated but do not stop. Data work is not easy, but it is doable and data-driven advocacy is often enhanced by technological devices and the Internet.“
BUKKY SHONIBARE IS AT THE HELM OF INVICTUS AFRICA AS THE FOUNDER/EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, A CIVIC ORGANIZATION THAT PROMOTES HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY THROUGH DATA-DRIVEN AND EVIDENCE-BASED ADVOCACY, LEGAL AND POLICY REVIEW, AND CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT. BUKKY’S UNWAVERING COMMITMENT TO NUMEROUS CAMPAIGNS AND ADVOCACIES, INCLUDING #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS, #CHURCHMETOO, #FUNDHER PROJECT, WOMANITY INDEX, WOMEN’S HEALTH INDEX, EDUCATIONAL PARITY INDEX, AND DIVERSITY, EQUALITY, AND INCLUSION (DEI) INDEX, AMONG OTHERS. BUKKY’S WORK UNDERSCORES HER PASSION FOR ADVANCING HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY ACROSS FIVE THEMES: WOMEN’S HEALTH, WOMEN’S POLITICAL REPRESENTATION, WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT, EDUCATIONAL PARITY, AND GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND RESPONSE.
BUKKY BOASTS A STELLAR ACADEMIC BACKGROUND, HOLDING A FIRST-CLASS DEGREE IN LAW (LL. B) FROM BAZE UNIVERSITY, NIGERIA, AND A FIRST-CLASS BACHELOR’S DEGREE (BSC) IN BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION FROM SMC UNIVERSITY, SWITZERLAND. HER PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE EXTENDS TO HER POST-GRADUATE STUDIES HAVING EARNED A MASTER OF LAWS (LLM) DEGREE IN INTERNATIONAL LAW AND DEVELOPMENT FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM, UK, A MASTER’S DEGREE IN MANAGING PEACE AND SECURITY IN AFRICA (MPSA) FROM ADDIS ABABA UNIVERSITY, ETHIOPIA, AND AN MSC IN INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW (IHRL) FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD.
NOTABLY, BUKKY IS DISTINGUISHED AS A FORD GLOBAL FELLOW, AN OXFORD-COMMONWEALTH SCHOLAR, A DEVELOPING SOLUTIONS SCHOLAR, A MANDELA WASHINGTON FELLOW, AND A MALALA FUND EDUCATION CHAMPION. HER REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENTS AND DEDICATION MAKE HER A PROMINENT FIGURE IN THE GLOBAL QUEST FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY.
Q: COULD YOU SHARE WITH US YOUR INSPIRATION BEHIND THE CREATION OF INVICTUS AFRICA, WHAT EXCITES YOU MOST ABOUT YOUR ROLE AND THE JOURNEY SO FAR?
Leading the work at Invictus Africa excites me! It affords me the opportunity to merge my quest to advocate for the rights of women and girls using my skills and interest in the interplay between data, technology, and law. My love for using numbers is traced to my interest in Mathematics while I was in secondary school. I loved solving Mathematical inequalities, which is about the relationship between two expressions where one is not equal to the other. These inequalities are expressed using five symbols: greater than (>), less than (<), greater than or equal to (≥), less than or equal to (≤), and not equal (≠). These symbols, which depict the imbalance between two sides, can be likened to the inequalities that women and girls grapple with. In many spheres of our society today, men are considered ‘greater than’ women while women are believed to be “less than” men. The same goes for other inequality expressions in Mathematics depending on the context. To solve mathematical inequalities, either or both sides may require addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. In the same vein, addressing gender inequalities sometimes requires developing or reviewing gender-specific policies and programs (addition), eliminating harmful traditional practices and social norms (subtraction), scaling up and implementing programs and policies across multiple categories of women (multiplication), or equally sharing social goods and services among women and men (division). This often entails finding a variable (such as x or y) which, when introduced, creates the desired equality. There is also my quest to use the law as the “variable” to achieve equality or, at most, close inequality. Law is an equalizer, especially when it is implemented according to its intent and purpose. For instance, it is through the instrumentality of law that countries like Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Namibia, and many African countries, closed the gender inequality gap in women’s political representation. It is also the use of law, for example, that many countries close the gap in educational parity between boys and girls by introducing variables like quotas. Data then comes in to show the current and future state upon which advocacy is based and serves as the basis for assessing and measuring the progressive or retrogressive realization of the equality standards set by law. This is what interests me about my work at Invictus Africa; and, I must say, it is just the beginning for us. We are only just scratching the surface.
Q: COULD YOU DISCUSS ANY SPECIFIC SUCCESS STORIES WHERE TECHNOLOGY PLAYED A PIVOTAL ROLE IN ACHIEVING POSITIVE OUTCOMES IN YOUR ADVOCACY WORK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY?
The #BringBackOurGirls movement comes to mind. When the 276 schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria on April 14, 2014, debates ensued online about the incident. On the one hand, many said the abduction never took place. Even the government denied it but eventually acknowledged it and claimed all but eight had been rescued. This raised the question of the number of girls that had been abducted. To ascertain this, data collection was conducted – collating the names, portraits, and details of the girls. It is from this list we continue to tick off the number of the girls who have returned or been rescued. This highlights not only the importance of data but also the use of technology in doing so. Technological devices and tech-based platforms – especially social media – played pivotal roles in the advocacy. People from all walks of life across the world tweeted about the incident, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. It trended consistently so much so that it sparked global interest and galvanized actions by international, national, and subnational entities. Today, the impact of the advocacy still reverberates. While 185 of the girls are back, 91 are still being expected back. Aside from this example, the data we release at Invictus Africa gain mileage and reach the intended duty bearers because of technology. We have had many local and international organizations request our data not only to highlight gender inequality gaps but also to justify advocacy for and funding of policies and programs while serving as the basis to measure the progressive or retrogressive realization of women’s human rights.
Q: IN TERMS OF CYBERSECURITY AND DATA PROTECTION, WHAT MEASURES DOES YOUR ORGANIZATION HAVE IN PLACE TO SAFEGUARD SENSITIVE INFORMATION, PARTICULARLY WHEN DEALING WITH VULNERABLE POPULATIONS?
Our effort towards safeguarding sensitive information is guided by our Data Protection Policy, considering that we are bound by Nigeria’s Data Protection Regulation (NDPR). This is also because as a data-focused organization, our programs and projects require that we collect and process data of individuals and organizations with whom we work or have relationships for various purposes. In addition, except where absolutely necessary, we do not collect the personal information of respondents and beneficiaries, and when we do, we do not store them.
Q: WHAT ARE SOME KEY TRENDS OR DEVELOPMENTS IN TECHNOLOGY THAT YOU BELIEVE WILL HAVE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON THE FUTURE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION’S MISSION IN PROMOTING HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a key trend in technology that poses positive and negative impacts on human rights and, in particular, women’s rights. This will have a significant impact on the future of the data we collect and how we advocate for the promotion of human rights and gender equality. The positive impact of AI on the rights and well-being of women and girls is limitless – from the ease of conducting entrepreneurial ventures to the automation of business processes. The question, however, is, which women? The upwardly mobile women? The rich and urban dweller? The technologically savvy? The educated and highly connected women? What happens to the woman in rural Nigeria whose access to education is only to check the box of going to school without such quality education that is tailored to today’s technological advancements such as AI? What happens to the woman whose access to AI-based healthcare services is impeded by her lack of access to basic tech devices or the internet?
Thus, AI poses negative impacts on promoting human rights generally and, in particular, women’s rights. For example, the capacity of AI to distort images, voice, and audio-visuals means that evidence that may be used to prosecute perpetrators of violence against women may be tampered with in favor of the abuser. Conversely, the impersonation that can be done using AI means anyone can be wrongly framed and prosecuted for human rights violations. In essence, one cannot overemphasize the impact of AI on criminal investigation, law enforcement, evidence and witness protection, and the overall criminal justice system.
In essence, the highly sophisticated technological nature of AI means without necessary measures disadvantaged women may be left out of enjoying the opportunities that AI portends. This is of particular concern considering that girls form over 60% of the over ten million out-of-school children in Nigeria; and even for those who are enrolled and retained in school, STEM is an area less explored by girls – especially girls in poor, rural, marginalized communities who have limited or no access to STEM facilities, teachers, mentors, or role model. In addition, the rapid gradual shift in the labor market triggered by AI-based automated processes means possible unemployment for women who are not technologically educated. Not forgetting the impact of AI on women’s right to privacy, especially the protection of their sensitive information.
Q: WHAT CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU ENCOUNTER WHEN APPLYING DATA-DRIVEN ADVOCACY AND TECHNOLOGY IN REGIONS OR COUNTRIES WITH LIMITED ACCESS TO DIGITAL RESOURCES?
Data-driven advocacy is often enhanced by digital resources. It is faster and easier to communicate data to different stakeholders when digital resources such as technological devices and the Internet are in place. The stakeholders we try to reach with our data are either on the supply side or the demand side. The supply side comprises the duty bearers (governments, policymakers, decision-makers) while the demand side comprises citizens or those affected by the human rights gaps the data is highlighting. The challenge, therefore, when we conduct data-driven advocacy is how to ensure the data we have produced reaches these two categories of stakeholders regardless of their access to digital resources. The opportunities, on the other hand, are that with the absence or limited access to digital resources, we carry out direct engagements whereby we take our printed reports to them and engage them directly. Although this comes with risks and costs associated with printing and travel, for instance, it helps us get our messages directly to those it should get to.
Q: HOW DO YOU ADDRESS ISSUES OF INCLUSIVITY AND ACCESSIBILITY WHEN USING TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR PROGRAMS, ESPECIALLY FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH LIMITED DIGITAL LITERACY OR DISABILITIES?
Inclusivity, for us, is based on different categories of demand-side stakeholders who are historically marginalized when it comes to access and the usage of technology. They include persons with disabilities, the under-educated, non-tech savvy, those without access to the internet and technology devices, rural dwellers, and those who, though educated, have a limited understanding of the use of technology. To bridge this gap, we tailor our medium of communication to the people we need to reach according to their technological limitations. For instance, if we need to validate our data from an institution that does not have an email address or is located in an area with limited internet access, we’d usually send a written letter, have one of our State Researchers submit the letter, and have them follow up until a physical meeting is scheduled and held. This stretches our turnaround time, but it is what we must do to ensure our data is accurate and reflective of actual reality. For persons with disability, one of our State Research Consultants on the Womanity Index is a person with disability; and, when we produce audio-visuals to communicate data or insights, we usually include features like voice, subtitles, and a sign language interpreter.
Q: HOW DO YOU SEE THE ROLE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING EVOLVING IN THE FIELD OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY, AND HOW IS YOUR ORGANIZATION LEVERAGING THESE TECHNOLOGIES?
The role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in the field of human rights and gender equality is rapidly evolving. As I mentioned earlier, the impact of AI on women’s human rights is both advantageous and disadvantageous. AI and ML technologies are increasingly being employed to address various challenges and advance the cause of human rights and gender equality in several ways, such as data analysis for human rights, as well as monitoring and tracking instances of gender-based violence. Also, AI’s predictiveness supports early warning, preventive approaches, and rapid response systems relating to human rights violations.
AI and ML help with detecting and mitigating biases and discrimination in various contexts where human rights and gender equality play out, such as in the workplace (e.g., hiring processes), in the criminal justice system (e.g., evidence gathering, analysis, and presentation), and many other spheres. In relation to gender-based violence, applied AI is useful in analyzing social media content and communication patterns in a way that detects potential gender-based threats and violence such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and sextortion. With such data and information, prevention and risk mitigation are enhanced. Another role AI plays is how it supports women’s access to healthcare not only in aiding personalized gender-specific treatment plans but also in the early detection of health concerns such as cancer. Equal access to education, women’s economic empowerment, privacy protection, etc. are other advantages of AI and ML for women’s human rights. As an organization, we are yet to fully leverage AI and ML in our work. It is something we are working towards, and once we have a better understanding of how to incorporate AI into our day-to-day activities, we will continue to incorporate AI in our work.
Q: HOW DO YOU MEASURE THE IMPACT OF YOUR ADVOCACY AND CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS AND WHAT OUTCOMES ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF ACHIEVING?
The best way we measure the impact of our advocacy is by linking our data with social impact. For instance, we have been developing a series called “Women’s Representation in African Politics (WRAPs).” The datasets highlight how women are represented in various political leadership spheres at all levels. Many local and international organizations use the data as the basis for discussing not only women’s underrepresentation (as the case may be), but also policies, programs, or interventions that must be put in place to address this anomaly. To provide better context to each dataset, we started publishing our monthly “Insights” where, based on our data, we conduct comparative assessments of what the data is saying, what is obtainable in other climes, and what has been set as the ideal/benchmark. With our TrackHer, we then collect data on campaign promises, budget allocation and spending, implementation of plans and programs, etc., that helps us measure and ascertain the progressive or retrogressive realization of women’s rights by comparing it with what our data showed earlier.
Q: GIVEN THE DYNAMIC NATURE OF TECHNOLOGY, HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT YOUR TEAM STAYS UP-TO-DATE WITH THE LATEST ADVANCEMENTS AND BEST PRACTICES IN THE FIELD OF DATA-DRIVEN ADVOCACY?
We ensure regular capacity development, internally or externally. Internally, we organize training sessions and invite experts to train us; and, externally, we have team members attend training programs. We also sometimes just use online platforms, such as YouTube and Coursera, to get trained.
Q: ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC PROJECTS OR INITIATIVES YOUR ORGANIZATION IS CURRENTLY WORKING ON THAT SHOWCASE THE POWER OF TECHNOLOGY TO DRIVE POSITIVE SOCIAL CHANGE IN THESE AREAS?
In relation to data, I’d say our WRAPs dataset is one example of our work that demonstrates how data and technology can work together to improve women’s representation. I’d give an example, we once released data on how 15 States in Nigeria have no women’s representation in their State parliaments, having ranked the other States according to the number and percentage of women’s representation in their parliaments. What was unique was not that we brought out nonexistent data – the data was always there. We, however, brought the data together, represented it in a simple shareable infographic, garnished the infographic with ranking, and used a bit of storytelling to portray what the data was saying. This generated a lot of conversation online, and people were calling out their state governments. We received calls from a few states telling us what they are doing to do better. By the time we were collecting the same set of data again, two of the states were no longer on the list, while some moved up the ranking. While the work that went into the changes is not just the data, the fact that our data contributed to the consciousness of increasing women’s representation is enough for us to know we are making an impact.
Q: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR NEWBIES BUILDING A CAREER IN TECH AND DATA-DRIVEN ADVOCACY?
Data work is not easy, but it is doable. You will make mistakes and sometimes get frustrated but do not stop. Data gives you the basis for highlighting gaps but also serves as the basis to measure progress or retrogression. However, for such data to be taken seriously, you must have measures in place to guarantee the credibility, reliability, and accuracy of your data. For us at Invictus Africa, we sometimes have issues with putting out accurate data especially when we cannot validate, but we have learned to conduct multi-pronged data validation exercises so as to reduce errors and guarantee accuracy.